Former Gitmo inmates urge French judge to probe ‘systematic torture’

February 27, 2014 

Two former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have asked a French judge to open a probe into claims of torture at the US prison. The allegations pertain to a retired commander of the facility accused of “war crimes and acts of torture inflicted on detainees.”

French citizens Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchallali, who were held in Guantanamo for late 2001 to 2004, have urged a French judge to issue a subpoena against former base commander Geoffrey Miller for torture.

The two men submitted an expert report along with Khaled Ben Mustapha, another former Guantanamo inmate to the Criminal Court in Paris. The document is backed by rights groups The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and details “an authorized and systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of any detainee.”

Among the acts of torture exacted on the former detainees, the report describes sleep deprivation, extended isolation and exposure to extreme temperatures. Before Miller assumed his role as commander of the base in 2002 the Bush Administration authorized the use of interrogation techniques that “did not conform to the Geneva Conventions and went beyond those approved in the U.S. Army Field Manual.” 

Miller implemented these interrogation techniques at the base and continued to use them even after then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld withdrew permission in January 2003. According to the former detainees’ lawyers, these so-called “softening up” techniques “continued to be used in certain cases.” 

“These acts constitute torture and violate, at a minimum, the Geneva Conventions prohibition on coercive interrogations,” writes the report. 

The investigative magistrate Sophie Clement issued a request in 2012 to the US government for access to the relevant documents in the case of Sassi, Benchellali and Ben Mustapha. The request was never answered by the US government. 

"That high-level US officials alleged to bear responsible for torture continue to enjoy impunity domestically is a stain on the US system of justice," said Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights. 

William Bourdon, one of the lawyers representing the detainees said the US should refrain from blocking a testimony from Geoffrey Miller and stressed the fact the Guantanamo Bay remains open 12 years after it began accepting prisoners, despite President Obama’s attempts to close it. 

"Considering the close relationship that exists between France and the United States, the US should not block Geoffrey Miller's testimony; he has a lot to say," Bourdon said. 

Reports of torture at the prison base were first brought to the international community’s attention when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) investigated Guantanamo. They carried out over 500 interviews and met with Miller and his staff. Following the visit, the ICRC voiced its concern over the lack of a legal system for the inmates and the excessive use of isolation and steel cages. The organization concluded the interrogators had “too much control over the basic needs of detainees.”

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